John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: February, 2015

Confessions of a Rat

When the system works against us we usually have little or no choice but to succumb to the inevitable and accept that life is less than we want it to be. But, I ask you, dear reader, “What if you were granted special circumstances that provided you with the opportunity to right a nagging wrong? Would you take it even if it meant ratting out some other person?”

 

Damn right you would.

 

For a little over ten years from 1989 to 2000, I regularly exercised almost every morning before going to work. My company offered free membership to Cardio Fitness Center, an upscale gym located in Rockefeller Center. The clientele included executives from Exxon, Rockefeller Center itself, Time-Life and The New York Times. Cardio Fitness made it simple and easy. They opened at 6:30 and supplied unisex tee shirts and shorts for every member making it the antithesis of a muscle gym.

 

We each had a locker and it didn’t take long after I joined that fall to realize just who some of my locker mates were. One December morning, I listened over my shoulder to the following conversation: “David, that was a lovely lighting ceremony last night.”

 

“Why thank you Punch, I do believe we were able to procure a nice tree this year.”

 

As I tied my sneaker, I stole a glance in the direction of the conversants, my eyes confirming that they were indeed Arthur (Punch) Sulzberger, publisher of the NY Times and David Rockefeller. Armed with this information, I chose to share my six degrees of separation story with others finishing with, “David Rockefeller and I are on a first-name basis: I call him, ‘Your Wealthiness’ and he calls me, ‘Hey you.”

 

A self-imposed, daily early morning trip to Cardio wasn’t easy since I lived in Port Washington, a slave to the LIRR and transportation within Manhattan to get from Penn Station at Thirty-Third and Eighth to the McGraw-Hill Building at Forty-Eighth and Sixth. This meant taking the 5:36 train out of Port Washington and finding fellow-travelers with whom to share a cab.

 

To make the 5:36 bedtime was never past 9 pm. I awoke at 4:47*, shaved, took a courtesy shower, dressed in clothes laid out the night before and left the house at 5:20 for the short ride to the station. At that time in the morning the only two dangers I faced were garbage trucks and newspaper delivery people both who owned the street and didn’t look for other traffic.

 

My car radio was set to 660 AM, WFAN, a sports talk show station then hosted by Steve Summers. Steve went off the air at 5:30 so I heard his last caller of the night who more times than not was a diminutive chap who Steve deemed, short Al. Steve would begin their conversation with, “Time is short and so is Al.”

 

Arriving at the station, my first priority was to secure the morning NY Times, the second, a cup of Joe before picking out one of the plentiful parking spaces.

 

On the train, same car, same seat every day; in the beginning I was one of the few “suits”  universally despised by construction workers and other non-suits. I didn’t blame them as most suits were financial types who spread themselves across several seats while shutting out the world behind the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

 

The Paper of Record was what I craved, but many days it was dicey whether the Times would make it before I arrived. Sometimes the papers made it but the news vendor didn’t show before departure. That problem was easily solved, a pocket knife or a car key would cut the strap and a cardboard cup would hold the money owed. If the Times wasn’t there, Newsday would have to suffice as a poor substitute. Unfortunately, as time went by the Times failed to arrive with greater regularity. When I complained to the newsstand guy, he shook his head and said that the delivery man didn’t care.

 

It just so happened that the locker next to mine belonged to John Reilly, then the Times’ Metropolitan editor. One day, frustrated, I complained to Mr. Reilly about the tardiness of his newspaper reaching Port Washington. As if by magic, shortly thereafter, the paper never missed the train again. And this honeymoon continued, all was well and life was good. One day I mentioned to the newsstand proprietor how pleased I was with the delivery of the Times. His eyes lit up as he said, “Wow, I know. But that delivery guy is really ticked off. His boss came down on him like a ton of bricks. He said some big shot had dropped a dime on him and he was almost fired.”

 

The rat said nothing and just walked away with a smile on his face. As I think about it now, I may have been whistling Strike up the Band too.

 

*Why 4:47? My clock alarm was tuned to a news station, WCBS, that reported traffic and weather on the eights.

 

The Home of White Elephants

A white elephant: a possession entailing great expense out of proportion to its usefulness or value to the owner.

 

Officially, New Jersey is known as the Garden State but realistically, Jimmy Hoffa’s resting place can rightfully claim the title as the White Elephant State. Most of these monuments to misplaced ambition and stupidity are bunched together in the swamps of East Rutherford fondly referred to as The Meadowlands.

 

Witness the Izod Center; aka, Brendan Byrne Arena; aka, Continental Arena. Opened in 1981, this 20,000 plus facility es kaput. Deserted by the Devils, Nets and profits, Izod Center in North Jersey is to close. So reported The New York Times noting that the arena is expected to lose $8.5 million in 2015. The hockey team left in 2007 for the Prudential Center in Newark and the Nets departed to the Barkley Center in Downtown Brooklyn for their 2011-2012 season.

 

Rather than demolish this facility, it will be mothballed until 2017 when the American Dream Meadowlands complex is currently expected to open, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that happening.

 

The American Dream Meadowlands complex is the newest name for a facility that here-to-fore owns the title of the most elaborate White Elephant in the state.

 

Originally named Xanadu Meadowlands, construction on this monstrosity began in 2004 with an expected building time of two years and a price tag in the billions. Various issues, problems and law suits slowed completion although; by 2009 it was 80% complete. Of course, by then the economy had gone to hell and so had its tenants, funding and debt load.

 

Its exterior has been deemed one of the ugliest facades of any structure ever envisioned. I cannot possibly do justice to just how revolting the exterior is. “A combination of aluminum composite and siding, of various colors including turquoise, red, yellow and green…” are mixed in with blue and white checks almost at random. The indoor ski slope at one end only enhances its cartoon effect prompting Governor Chris Christie to declare the complex, “…the ugliest building in New Jersey and possibly America…”

 

With the death of Lehman Brothers in 2009, funding and committed retailers vamoosed. By August of 2010, control had been surrendered to five lenders. As if the financial crash wasn’t enough, Mother Nature struck during the winter of 2011. “On February 1, after a record-breaking month of snow for the area, a 50 to 60-foot long section of the eastern wall buckled and a horizontal crease was apparent on the complex’s ski slope. Two days later, on February 3, after workers were attempting to melt snow from the ski slope’s roof, ice build-up caused the eastern wall to fail and suffer a partial collapse.”

 

Still, a new management group, Triple Five took control in the spring of 2011. Triple Five, who own Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall, re-christened the complex, American Dream Meadowlands (ADM) and expanded the complex to include a water park and a theme park. Lawsuits with the Giants and Jets delayed things further but once settled, the project resumed with a new completion date in late 2016.

 

I predict that this will come to pass as planned including the indoor ski slope, the amusement park and a water park plus an indoor ice rink, a 26 screen movie theater, and a 3,000 seat concert hall. The piece de resistance will be, the New Jersey Eye, an outdoor observation wheel providing panoramic views of New York City from 26 climate controlled gondolas. Yes, I predict this will come to pass so long as God stops paying attention to every other activity on the planet and dedicates His infinite will to the ADM for the next two years.

 

Good grief, I’m running out of space without getting to costly Met Life Stadium, home to the football Giants and Jets. Note; Met Life, constructed without a dome to the tune of $1.8 Billion cost more money to build than the NFL’s ultimate cathedral, AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. More popularly called, Jerry’s Palace dedicated to the power and greed of the Cowboys’ owner, this magnificent edifice has a retractable roof and every possible bell and whistle imaginable making non-domed Met Life look like a band box! In truth, Met Life is fatally flawed and, except for some modern electronic updates, it doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor, Giants Stadium that was destroyed when less than 40 years old.

 

The Red Bulls have a new soccer stadium in Harrison and Newark’s Prudential Center, home to the NHL Devils. Both arenas were constructed on the theory that, “If you build it they will come.”

 

But will they come to Harrison or Newark; fuhgeddsboudit!

Darrell Bevell — Meet Bob Gibson

Sunday, November 20, 1978: If you were a Philadelphia Eagles fan listening to the game on the radio late in that afternoon, you were close to giving up. Your team playing in Giants Stadium at the other end of New Jersey was losing 13 to 17. The hated Giants controlled the football with only 32 seconds left to play. The Eagles were out of time outs, the situation was in doubt. Yet, here is how the team’s second year play-by-play announcer, 36-year-old Merrill Reese, described what happened next:

 

Under thirty seconds left in the game. From here on Pisarcik can fall on the ball and there’s nothing the Eagles can do.

And Pisarcik fumbles the football.

It’s picked up by Herman Edwards.

15-10-5-TOUCHDOWN, Eagles.

I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it!

The Eagles beat the Giants, 19 to 17 before a shocked crowd.

 

This unbelievable finish that Eagles fans call to this day, “The Miracle at the Meadowlands” (and Giants fans, “The Fumble”) were resurrected by the last play the Seattle Seahawks ran in Super Bowl XLIX. Having reached the Patriots one-yard-line with 26 seconds remaining in the game and down four points, the Seahawks needed a touchdown to win the game. They elected to try a pass play instead of simply handing the ball to their formidable running back, Marshawn Lynch.  Unfortunately for Seattle, Malcolm Butler, a Patriot defensive back read the play and jumped the receiver’s route intercepting the football at the goal line. Game, set and match; the New England Patriots were the Super Bowl Champions for the fourth time in the Brady-Belichick era and the Seattle offensive coaching staff was the goats.

 

Darrell Bevell, Seattle’s offensive coordinator, told the press, “It didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would.”

 

Indeed, Mike Francesa, the foremost sports radio host in New York, opined: “The single worst big-moment call in the history of sports. If I live to be 200, I’ll never see anything as dumb in my life.”

 

The Giants bone-headed play selection at the end of that Eagle game back in 1978 was the choice of their offensive coordinator, Bob Gibson. On the previous play, Joe Pisarcik, the Giants quarterback took a knee. Then, for reasons unknown, Gibson called for a running play instead of telling Pisarcik to take one last knee to end the game. In situations like this, it is considered professional courtesy for the offense to tell their opponents that they would take a knee. The big defensive linemen would stay in their place to avoid unnecessary injuries to either team. When none of the Giants linemen said anything, an Eagles defender asked, “Are you guys running a play?”

 

“We are,” came the response. Gibson called a running play by Giants fullback, Larry Csonka. Pisarcik turned to hand the ball to Csonka, missed and only managed to hit Csonka’s leg. The ball went bouncing away where Herman Edwards scooped it up on the run and scored the winning touchdown.

 

The sports writers were horrified. Dave Klein wrote a piece that appeared under the headline, “Eagles Take Advantage of Boner Call.” Klein wrote:

 

It should not have happened. It could not have happened. There was no way the Giants could have lost yesterday. But they found a way. Blame it on a gross and grievous error on the part of the coaching staff.”

 

Gibson was fired the next day and never spent another minute with a football team at any level ever again. Gibson retreated to Sanibel Island where he opened a bait shop, a bar and a restaurant called Gibby’s. Today at 87, he resides in nearby Fort Myers still unreachable and uncommunicative about that horrible play on that Sunday afternoon.

 

So far, the Seahawks have rallied around Bevell and his boss, head coach, Pete Carroll admits he too signed off on the play. Unfortunately, plays that are directly responsible for losing a championship never go away and the goat carries this with him forever. Bevell is that goat.

 

Gibson was smart getting out to start a new life in paradise. Bevell may want to consider a similar move. If you don’t believe me, ask Bill Buckner.

In Relative Perpetuity

Avery Robert Fisher (1906-1994), grew up an aficionado of classical music. He went on to experiment with audio designs and acoustics with the goal of developing a radio receiver capable of creating sound the equivalent to the experience of listening to a live orchestra. He developed high fidelity just before World War II when paired with newly invented FM radio, fulfilled his goal. His Fisher Radio Company became a leader in developing quality sound receivers culminating with the remarkable 22-tube stereophonic TA600 radio introduced in 1959, a radio of such quality that it retailed for $350 (equal to $2,800 today.) Mr. Fisher sold his company to Emerson Electric in 1969 for $31 million.

 

Mr. Fisher is best remembered for his philanthropy.  He donated $10.5 million to the New York Philharmonic in 1973 and in return the trustees agreed to name their new quarters at Lincoln Center, Avery Fisher Hall, in perpetuity or so it seemed.

 

By 2014, $10.5 million dollars wasn’t what it used to be in the last 40 years while technology has raised people’s expectations to experience performances that a 1973 facility cannot possibly produce. And so the current trustees determined that Avery Fisher Hall needs a $500 million restoration.

 

The trustees at Lincoln Center recently reached agreement with the Fisher family to pay his descendants $15 million together “with other inducements in hopes of luring a much larger donor willing to subsidize…” this project.

 

So much for perpetuity!

 

Curiously, shortly following this press release, the American Museum of Natural History announced their plans to build: “A $325 million, six-story addition designed to foster the institution’s expanding role as a center for scientific research and education.”

 

The addition will be called, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation. Robin Pogrebin reported in The New York Times: “Mr. Gilder has been involved in every major initiative of the museum’s during the last 20 years…His gift will put his total contributions to the museum at more than $125 million during that period, making him the single largest donor in the institution’s history.”

 

Richard Gilder, Jr. (born May 31, 1932) is another New York philanthropist, well-respected for his contributions to his alma matter, Yale, the Central Park Conservancy,  other institutions and, of course the Museum of Natural History. His success in life came as the founder and lead partner of Gilder, Gagnon, Howe & Co, a firm specializing in trading stocks and short selling.

 

In recognition of his generosity, the museum had already named its Richard Gilder Graduate School after him. This school has bestowed a Ph.D. in comparative biology, something rare for a museum.

 

Good luck Mister Gilder in your effort to be known in perpetuity. Most Americans would never think about this fate. We’re born, live and die. With luck our families and friends remember us for a time. This is good.

 

Famous and infamous make it into history but relatively unknown people who, through a flaw in our capitalist system, acquire considerably more wealth than they are entitled to, feel a driving need to achieve immortality by buying their way into it as they contemplate their own end.

 

Once we called them robber barons. The Rockefellers, Mellons, Harrimans and Vanderbilts of years gone by who flooded charities with money. So too do the current super rich; the Kochs, Tishes, Langones, Buffets and Gates who give back so much because they own so much. Their names may remain for eons, more or less.

 

But the shelf-life for Mr. Gilder’s perpetuity is limited. I hope he negotiated an acceptable time frame that his name will stand in place at the museum and its grad school or that the museum will have to payoff his descendants when it is removed.

 

Sam Roberts who wrote the piece about Avery Fisher’s demise noted that not that long ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art proposed to name their Roman Sculpture Court in perpetuity after Leon Levy, a collector and philanthropist. Leon’s wife, Shelby White, had the wherewithal to ask, “How long is perpetuity?”

 

The Met’s director replied, “For you, 50 years.”

 

Ms White was not pleased as their daughter was in her 20s at the time so she insisted that this director extend his definition of perpetuity to 75 years.

 

The director agreed and the deal was done. Leon got 75 years of immortality and the Met got $20 million.

 

“New York is the fastest track in the world”

John Lindsay